PUSD continues work on Title IX compliance but there’s more to be done

Slide from the Sept. 27 Title IX update to the Board of Education.

More than a year after an internal audit found multiple Title IX compliance violations in Piedmont Unified’s competitive athletics programming, gender inequities remain in key areas, according to a group tasked with investigating the issue.

At the school district’s Sept. 27 board meeting, members of PUSD’s Title IX Committee, which includes staff and parent representatives, said that financial inequities between sports teams have not been fully resolved and that female athletes continue to have less access to weight training than their male counterparts.

Title IX is the 1972 law that prohibits educational institutions that take federal funds from discrimination based on sex. The District conducted a Title IX audit on the 2021-22 school year and reported the results in May 2022. The initial audit found inequities favoring boys in 16 out of 54 categories and just one favoring girls; a subsequent chart presented to the board found 17 categories favoring boys.

Since the original audit, the Board of Education has been updated multiple times and at the Sept. 27 meeting, representatives of new subcommittees within the Title IX group shared updates in a presentation to the board.

New subcommittees focus on budgets, benefits data, communications, and general experience.

Kim DeYoung, a parent member of the equal benefits subcommittee, told the Board that discrepancies remain in the quality and number of girls’ and boys’ games. When the girls volleyball team, which includes her daughter, played at Encinal High School in Alameda, Piedmont had played only five games. Encinal had played 13.

“That makes a difference for the athletic experience,” DeYoung said.

Other ongoing issues are practice times, quality of locker rooms, access to strength and conditioning, and publicity.

Access to the weight rooms has been a particularly hot topic.

When renovation at Witter Field began during the summer, weights were moved into a space that was formerly solely the boys football locker room and into a room in the middle school gymnasium. But parents of girls have complained that girls can’t use the weight room because the boys also use the space to change.

“All the weights right now are in the boys locker room.” DeYoung said at the meeting, emphasizing she was speaking for herself. “There’s not a set of dumbbells in the girls locker room. I know there’s going to be a reasonable explanation for that but it still feels inequitable when you moved the entire weight room into the boys locker room and girls are not accessing that.”

Completion of the Witter renovation project, initially scheduled for late 2023, has been pushed out to January 2024.

Athletic Director Bradley Smet said that for safety reasons the weight room can only be kept open when there is supervision and that athletes cannot just drop in to use the weights.

“If teams are requesting access, I can schedule around,” he said. “We’re not going to have teams using the weights when boys are changing.”

Yet the result, according to some parents of girl athletes, is little to no access.

Smet said the renovated weight room should be available by Nov. 1.

He also said a new strength and conditioning coach has been hired. Michelle Mazzeo started Oct. 17 and will oversee two classes, including a yoga class. Mazzeo will be available as a strength and conditioning coach for all athletes, according to Smet.

The committee’s presentation also broke down how sports are funded at Piedmont High School and shone a spotlight on the significant budgetary role of fundraising and donations. Just 55 percent of sports funding comes from the PUSD budget. The remaining 45 percent comes from parents and fundraising events and is distributed by the district through the Boosters Club and Associated Student Body accounts for each team and from a general account for the school.

PUSD’s roughly $450,000 annual contribution to the sports budget covers 80 percent of the athletic director’s salary, a clerk, an athletic trainer, and the requirements for each team such as officials’ fees, transportation, dues, uniforms, and equipment, Smet said.

Parents are asked to donate $385 per sport per athlete to a stipend fund that pays coaches. (Under California’s Education Code, the district cannot require families to pay into the fund.)

Liz Arney, a parent leading the budget subcommittee, told the board that donations to the stipend fund vary widely by team. Overall, 61 percent of families donated to the fund last year. Data presented at the meeting showed 71 percent of boys’ team families donated during the audit year but just 55 percent of girls’ team families did.

“When I reached out to a bunch of parents to ask, ‘Why didn’t you pay,’ I could see some there were some teams that had 90 percent participation rate and there were some that had 10 percent participation rate,” Arney said. “When I asked people [why], there were 10 different answers.”

Some parents told Arney they were “trying to send a message about a coach,” she said. Others said they assumed the coaches fund was a “tip on top of the coach pay” or that they preferred to give the coach a check at the end of the season.

For some, Arney said: “It was… ‘We paid in the fall,’ or ‘We have so many people on our team, we know we’ve fully funded our coaches, why do we have to pay for other team’s coaches.’ I could understand the rationale of all these parents, but at the end of the day, all of these coaches need to get paid.”

Smet said that he believes the difference in paid coaches for boys and girls teams in 2022-23 was one position.

If the fund doesn’t raise enough money, something has to replace that shortfall. Last year, the Boosters Club and the annual Turkey Trot provided the difference.

That was “money that could have been spent on other things in sports and in girls sports, in my opinion,” Arney said.

The Boosters Club also raises money to hand out grants to teams for what it calls “nice to haves.” That could be extra equipment or custom hats for the team or perhaps a new scoreboard. The club has also donated to the pool and field renovations. Information presented to the board showed Boosters gave boys’ teams $10,647 in grants last school year compared to $8,133 to girls teams and $990 to co-ed teams. The club does not solicit grant applications.

The Turkey Trot normally funds cross country and track and field and any excess funds go to the Boosters Club. ASB accounts are funded by parent donations and fundraisers as well as admission fees (not all sports charge admission to games). The money will fund things that students will keep (such as swimsuits and caps), as well as some transportation, facility rentals, and end-of-year parties.

The complicated funding for sports can make it extremely difficult to track whether the school is funding girls sports on an equal footing with boys sports.

Smet said when there are differences, he can use the general ASB account to equalize funding. Title IX does not allow unequal spending on boys teams over girls teams even if the parents of the boys team are raising more money.

“If it’s going to make a Title IX violation, it’s on myself and the principal to stop that,” Smet said.

The boys football team parents did a $20,000 online fundraiser this year through a company called “Vertical Raise.” Smet said the money went into the team’s ASB account.

“We’re trying a lot of things to figure out what the best option is for all of our teams to use,” he said.

He added that excess funds in an ASB account can be carried over to the next year.

Arney told the board that some parents have set up accounts outside of PUSD control to support teams at the school.

“Many teams are fundraising off the books and are not putting the money in their ASB accounts,” she said at the meeting. “So we have no insight into how much money they’re actually raising or what they’re spending that money on. This is a major problem as PUSD is still responsible under Title IX for ensuring equity and experience but with wild disparities around fundraising and spending, some of which is going on outside the district’s accounts, complicates the district’s ability to address these inequities.”

Said Smet, “It’s definitely something that we’re continuing to work on and make sure our procedures are being followed. We had parents buy things and ask for reimbursement. Parent information, parent notification (is important).”

One thing already addressed is uniforms. Smet has set up a schedule for uniform replacement so that all teams rotate into new uniforms on a regular basis. Previously, new uniforms were purchased on a haphazard basis, which can lead to inequities.

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